This Saturday, the 148th Belmont Stakes return to Belmont Park in Elmont. If you’re a gambler, Preakness winner Exaggerator is a 9-5 favorite to win. If you’re asking us, however, we say: forget the ponies; bourbon is—as always—your best and safest bet.
Bourbon is, of course, one of the three ingredients in the Belmont Jewel (recipe below), the official cocktail of the Belmont Stakes. And if you order one at Belmont Park, it will be made with Woodford Reserve, the park’s official bourbon.
Crafted at the historic Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, Woodford Reserve is a triple-distilled bourbon with notes of sugar, spice, and everything nice (really: honey, leather and cocoa). Combined with the Belmont Jewel’s other two ingredients—lemonade and pomegranate juice—it makes one heck of a cocktail.
But what is it about thoroughbred racing and bourbon in the first place? We decided to ask our resident cocktail expert, Amy Zavatto, author of the new book, Forager’s Cocktails: Botanical Mixology with Fresh, Natural Ingredients.
“I have been to the Belmont Stakes, and I’ve had the privilege of sitting in one of the special suites at Churchill Downs to watch the ponies from on high, and let me tell you if I’d been sipping anything other than bourbon and someone didn’t kick me out, I would’ve kicked myself out,” says Zavatto. “Bourbon and the races are tradition, and why shouldn’t they be? Outstanding American whiskey and champion horses are both unparalleled products of the great state of Kentucky. Unless you don’t indulge, to sip anything else is simply blasphemy.”
Bourbon and the races—to use Zavatto’s phrase—share a very long history. In Kentucky, the bourbon industry and the horse racing industry essentially grew up together, each dating back to the 1820s. Woodford Reserve dates back even further. They began distilling in 1780.
“Woodford is a whiskey ever-present on my bar,” says Zavatto. “If I’m not sipping Chris Morris’s spirit solo, it makes a damn fine Mint Julep this time of year.”
It also, says Zavatto, makes a damn fine Dandelion Pickle Back.
“A pickle back is, basically, a shot of bourbon and a shot of pickle juice (or a sip and a sip, if you prefer, as shots are just a weird thing to do),” says Zavatto. “The idea for this was to kind of take that trending idea and make it into something a little more interesting and at the same time make use of something that everyone considers a weed. It’s not the most elegant ‘cocktail,’ but I liked the idea of taking this very inelegant bar item and turning it into something kind of lovely.”
And for a Belmont Stakes like this Saturday’s, with a Triple Crown win out of the question, something kind of lovely is exactly what we need.
The Belmont Jewel
- 1.5 ounces bourbon (Belmont Park serves Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select)
- 2 ounces lemonade
- 1 ounce pomegranate juice
Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain over ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge or cherry.
The Dandelion Pickle Back
- 1.5 ounces bourbon
- 1 pickled flower
For the pickled flowers:
- 1 cup dandelion or chive flowers, gently rinsed (allow to dry by scattering on a clean kitchen towel or paper towel; do not blot or squeeze)
- white wine or champagne vinegar
Add the clean, dry flowers into a glass jar with a lid (Zavatto recommends using a pint-sized Ball jar). Pour in the vinegar. Place in a cool, dark place for 5 to 7 days. Color will leach from the flowers and give your vinegar mixture a lovely hue, which you should absolutely feel free to use on salads, etc., as you eat through the flowers. Flowers can be used for as an edible version of the traditional pickle-juice shot of a pickle back, or on salads, a pulled-pork sandwich, whatever you dream up!
For more on the bourbon-friendly Belmont Stakes, check out Betsy Davidson’s story, “The Belmont Jewel: The Official Cocktail of the Belmont Stakes,” here.